In a brief interview with Nigeria real estate hub correspondent, Mr. Chindedu Ifezue defines litigation in the simplest way possible, sheds more light into Land litigation in Nigeria and the challenges facing land litigation. Read below:
Q: Good day sir, thank you for granting us this interview, kindly introduce yourself:
A: My name is Chinedu Ifezue. I am a lawyer and I manage a law firm called Sapphire and Breckinridge in Lagos Nigeria. We are basically into intellectual property law, real estate litigation and corporate commercial.
Q: Please do define and shed more light into litigation as regards land.
A: “Litigation is when a person believes he has a cause of action to place an order, he decides to enforce that order in going to court and filing a suit in the court. It could be the magistrate court, it could be the high court, Federal court, depending on the cause of action which will inform the person of the jurisdiction. The claimant files a claim, defendant is served with that claim and then is expected to file a response which is called a ‘statement of defence’ and then the claimant upon receiving the statement of defence files a reply if and when necessary. After that, parties are expected to go to court and trial is to open. The claimant tells the court his own side of the story using the most elementary terms, the defendant tells the court his own version and the court is expected to make a ruling or decision and all this story as elementary as it sounds are undertaken by lawyers.
For Land litigation, the lawyer has to have full understanding of the land law in the area of jurisdiction of the court. You may also need to know that the position of land law in Lagos state may be different from the position in the south east depending on the law that is enforced
Q: Generally speaking, is land litigation in Nigeria fair enough?
A: The truth is the legal system in Nigeria is still fraught with several issues. Litigation in Nigeria is one you can’t have any envisaged time or expected time of completion of tenure. There are some land litigations that have been in court for the past 15/20years and the parties, some of whom have died, have not even gone half way into the matter. This is not peculiar to land dispute alone even though it is more prevalent in land matters. We have been calling for a review of the judicial system in Nigeria to ensure that matters are actually disposed of timeously, that would also serve the interest of justice.
For land matters it is almost understandable but not justifiable. One of those reasons why it seems to last longer than other areas of litigation is the attachment that people in this part of the world have to land. Although the land use act has placed all the land within states under the control of the governor of the state, people still have so much attachment to their land as it represents their family history, cultural heritage, etc. are connected to these lands. So when there are disputes to it, you find out that litigants go almost all the way to ensure that they don’t lose out in the litigation which has made land dispute to become the most volatile in area of litigation. You find out lawyers would say they can’t do land litigation because it is dangerous.
Q: Going by what you just said, there is an obsession in this part of the world, a strong attachment to landed property. Do you think increment in Land tax can help reduce the obsession people have on lands?
A: I don’t think so. That would warrant its own ripple effect because like I said earlier, Nigerians’ attachment to land is not because of the economic value that it has for them alone, it is also as a result of the history and cultural heritage that they have placed on the land. So the increment in the taxes will only mean increment in the value that these same people will end up selling to whoever they are selling to. The person who also builds on it would have to increase the rent on those properties. That would more than anything else cause more problem. I do not believe that there is need for government to consider increasing the taxes. As a matter of fact, we must commend the Lagos state government. Very recently, towards the later part of His excellency, Babatunde Raji Fashola’s administration, there was a considerable reduction in the amount payable for gaining consent on Lands and that has encouraged a lot of people to engage in registration. This in return brought some sanity in Land matters. If all the lands in Lagos have verifiable titles, the issue of omo-onile will almost be laid to rest, secondly, dispute of land will become easier for lawyers.
Q: What advice would you give individuals who find themselves in Land dispute?
A: No one prays to have any kind of dispute in court let alone Land dispute, but if those eventualities occur, we will advise the litigants to believe in the judicial system, encourage the court judges to one way or the other determine the rights of the parties not to engage in threats, killings or other horrible things that follow land litigation.
I also encourage that whoever acquiring a land should conduct research, get a lawyer who is vast in that area to assist in verifying the title of the land about to be acquired. And if that is done, I do not see a situation of land dispute. If after doing the needful a dispute occurs, then be rest assured that justice will be served at the end of the day.